The Great Wall of China

I was in business in China last week and extended my stay to visit a colleague to take a short trip to the Great Wall. It was really good even if the pollution level was high and so the views were not extensive. The wall is 5000 km long which if straight would be take a person half way between Tokyo and Paris!

It’s actually very twisted with plenty of ups and downs with many steps and slopes and different towers along the edge.

We visited the wall at Mytianyu about an hours drive from my colleagues’ house near Beijing. It was an interesting experience in integrated transport with a cable car trip up to the wall and a toboggan ride back down!

We walked about 5k along the wall – we didn’t have a lot of time as we had to be back in Beijing for my flight home, for ballet practice and for a performance of Grease! But I got a really good feel for the wall and the extent of it.

It was very cold – around freezing and as I’d packed for a business trip I didn’t have the best clothes. Fortunately I’m in training for the Yokohama marathon so had my running gear so managed to double layer with compression leggings and jeans and 2 jackets thanks to a quick purchase of a thin down jacket in the airport on the way out which I haven’t had off in China since buying! It’s great for under my normal coat.

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Tsukuba-san 筑波山 (Nantai-san 男体山, 870m and Nyotai-san 女体山, 876m)

Day hiking trip up one of Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains. This mountain is about 50km north of Tokyo and was accessed relatively easily by train from Akihabara then a bus to the trail head. It’s a historic religious mountain with twin peaks seen as symbols of male and female deities. It is also famous for a selection of interestingly shaped rocks that are named on the path (only in Japanese so I only know about the most famous toad rock -see picture at the end).

The mountain is not particularly high, particularly on Japanese standards but was presumably chosen to be a 100 Famous Mountain due to its religious significance and the fact it stands alone in the Kanto plane so has a real presence in the surrounding landscape.

The weather today was lovely, sunny and warm. I was hoping for some autumn colours and there were some beautiful ones but clearly autumn has not yet fully arrived here!

At the bottom of the mountain there are a series of shrines at Tsukuba jinja-mae.

The mountain was very crowded. There is a cable car and a funicular railway up the mountain which probably added to the crowds but the busiest part seemed to be the way down from Nyotai-san where I passed long queues of people coming up. The walking was quite rocky and steep and I enjoyed using my new birthday walking poles to ease the pressure on my knees!

Here are some pictures:

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This is Toad Rock (below) – it’s claimed to bring you luck if you throw a rock and it lands in its mouth!

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Japan’s Northern Alps: Kamikochi weekend hike, with Yari-ga-take 槍ガ岳, Japan’s Matterhorn, Oku-hotaka-dake 奥穂高岳 and Mae-hotaka-dake 前穂高岳 and exposed ridge scramble: Daikiretto 大キレット

Last weekend was a long weekend with a holiday on Monday for ‘Respect for the Aged Day’. There is a three day walk in the hiking book that I’ve had my eye on for some time, especially as some people I shared a beer with at the very first mountain hut I stayed in had highly recommended it. I felt tired after our holiday but knew this wasn’t an opportunity to be missed!

I travelled to Matsumoto on Friday night. I had decided to pay the extra for a reserved seat on the train it being a holiday weekend but they had sold out. I got there early but got confused over the reserved and unreserved and the queuing system and ended up standing most of the way on a very full train. It was a shame as I was tired after a long week and had a packed tea ready to eat on the train!

Lessons I learnt:
1. Buy your ticket in advance on a holiday weekend
2. Get reserved seat when you can (in advance!)
3. Ask when you buy your ticket which carriages are unreserved if you have an unreserved seat.

However, at 2100 I finally got a seat and got to enjoy my packed tea!

I arrived in Matsumoto about 2230 and went straight to the hotel and bed! I had a good business hotel near the station so was soon asleep.

On Saturday morning I caught the early train and then bus to Kamikochi. The train was filled with hikers, many with tents and lots with helmets. I was travelling light and staying in mountain huts. I’d not booked – it said not necessary on the first hut – so I wondered how that would go. My impression is it’s going to be a busy weekend in the mountains!

 

Walk Day one – Kamikochi to Yari-dake Onsen, 17km, 1500m ascent.
The northern Alps are fantastic – really great views on Saturday. The walk was along the river Azusa-gawa, flat for most of the way and then a very big climb (1500m)!  I saw my first monkey in Japan near the visitor centre.  No one was paying any attention so I expected to see more but the photo below was the only one I got as I didn’t see another.

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I arrived at the Hut at around 14:30 so got established and then went off to climb “The Matterhorn of Japan”, Yari-ga-take 槍ガ岳, 3180 m. It also is Japan’s 5th highest mountain.

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It was great – very busy and quite exciting – plenty of ladders and chains and great views. There was quite a lot of queuing as there was a lot of people. I’d decided to climb this afternoon rather than tomorrow morning at sunrise as I expect it would be very very busy then! The Japanese being organised have an up and down system marked which did work well but there were still queues especially at the top for the photo opportunity!

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I walked back down to the hut and met two groups of people from earlier in the day still walking up that were amazed that I had done so much. This made me feel a bit more confident about Sunday’s adventure.

I was worried about walking the Daikiretto 大キレットwhich was in Sunday’s plan. This is a famous exposed ridge which was part of the defined walk with ladders, chains and big drops. I was especially concerned after I read lots of people’s reports on it on line. It’s difficult to tell how much they are dramatising it to make a good read and how scary it really will be! I left my options open in case of bad weather or feeling ill. I’ll try not to dramatise for this account!

From talking to some people at the hut I realised I had a get out, I could walk along the ridge part of the way and then cut down to the valley if I didn’t feel confident so decided to get up early and make my final decision then.

 

Walk Day Two – Yari-dake-Sanso to Htaka-dake-sanso, 8km, 600m ascent, 700m descent

I hadn’t set an alarm for Sunday knowing that I’d be woken by early starters getting up to see the sunrise and indeed I was! I got up about 0420, packed up and headed off. I was out in the dark with just the first colours of sunrise showing and the valleys filled with cloud, it was lovely. I quite like these early starts and as I was in bed at 1930 I’d had plenty of sleep!

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I got to the decision point – walk back down to the valley I’d walked up or carry on and do the Diakiretto. I knew I didn’t really have a choice- you have to do challenging things to feel fulfilment (or at least I do!) so I carried on.

It was fabulous! An amazing ridge with steep drops and scrambling most of the way. There were so many people it was strange. Quite a lot of time was just spent waiting but it didn’t seem so bad as it meant there was an opportunity to have a rest. Most of the day was around 3000m and I felt the altitude a little so the rests helped.

I didn’t see anyone all day who wasn’t Japanese and a couple of people took photos of me so I guess I was somewhat unusual!

I was glad of my helmet, with so many people there was the odd rock coming down, nothing threatening but enough to make me pleased I’d packed it!

The views were wonderful and I had a great day weather wise with clear views. Normally when I do scary things I don’t take any photos but because there was some waiting time I managed to take a few.

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Mark would have loved this walk and I was sorry he wasn’t here to share it – it’s exactly the kind of day out he enjoys and if I hadn’t had a good few days out with him in similar terrain there is no way I would have attempted this.

I arrived at Hotaka-dake-sanso (a mountain hut and my home for the night) at about 1330 after nearly 9 hours of difficult walking and felt exhausted! I was glad to get a place, the hut takes 300 but it was so full that they were doing 2 people to a place (tatami mat). There were very many tents as well taking up every free space.

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Walk Day Three- Hotaka-dake-sanso to Kamikochi, 9km, 200m ascent, 1600m descent

I didn’t sleep all that well, I’m not sure about this 2 to a bed thing! The woman sharing my tatami mat fortunately got up at 0315 so I could bask in the luxury of a reasonable amount of space until the lights went on about 0430.

It really was busy with big queues for the toilet and for breakfast. I had my breakfast watching the sunrise, it was quite spectacular and there were hundreds of people watching.

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Distant view of Mount Fuji just after sunrise:

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The first peak of the day, Oku-hotaka-dake 奥穂高岳 started with a technical bit so there was a queue – kind of funny for 0530 in the morning at 3000m! It soon got a but less technical and people spread out. I felt tired after yesterday’s effort and a bit breathless with the altitude and the steep climb.

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Oku-hotaka-dake (3190m) is Japan’s 3rd highest mountain at There was a queue at the summit for summit photos so I decided to give the photograph a miss and continue on.

View back down the valley to Kamikochi:

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Last peak of the walk, Mae-hotaka-dake (前穂高岳, 3090m) was still a bit of a technical climb.  Here’s the summit picture:

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On my way back to Tokyo I had to change trains in Matsumoto so decided despite my tiredness to take a quick walk through the town to see the ancient wooden castle in the town.  I only stopped for 5 minutes to take some pictures but well worth the detour!

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